Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Helping your neighbors and health care

This article reports on a town hall meeting in which Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, addresses a woman whose husband has a traumatic brain injury. When she tells him that their health insurance won't cover his care and asks what Sen. Coburn will do to help, Coburn responds, "Well, I think—first of all, yeah. We'll help. The first thing we will do is to see what we can do, individually, to help you, through our office. But the other thing that is missing in this debate is us as neighbors, helping people that need our help. [Applause.] You know we tend to ... [Applause.] The idea that the government is a solution to our problems is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement."

The whole health care debate is so frustrating and infuriating! One purpose of our government, stated expressly in the Constitution, is to "promote the general welfare." The fact is, there are many things that we as individuals, as families, or even as neighbors, cannot do on our own. The government can pool together resources and work on collective solutions much better than most of us can as individuals, families or small groups and communities. (By better, I mean they can take advantage of efficiencies of scale).

Take Coburn's statement above. There is a great deal that neighbors can do when someone has a seriously ill loved one. They can cook you meals, clean your house, watch your children, maybe drive the one who is sick to the doctor, and offer you moral support. In most cases, however, your neighbors cannot afford to pay your medical bills. (If you had neighbors that wealthy, you'd likely be that wealthy yourself).

Even if your friends and family pool together some money, how much are they going to come up with? A few thousand? That won't come anywhere near meeting the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that a serious illness can cost. And no matter how well-intentioned, your neighbors most likely do not have the expertise to provide you with skilled nursing or medical care--and if they do, they probably have their own jobs they need to continue working in order to pay their own bills.

The inanity is driving me nuts, and what's saddest is that so many people are buying it, as the applause for Coburn's statement indicates. What's even sadder is that some of these very people are those in need, or who have relied on government solutions for their care (if you want, I'll look up the many articles and videos I've seen recently that show this), yet they somehow consider their own needs an exception and want to deny similar help to others.

Update: This article makes similar points about the incident, quoting medical professionals who were horrified by Coburn's words.

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